The longer you live, the healthier you’re likely to be during the last chunk of your life. That’s one of Dan Buettner’s messages in his popular TED talks and books, and it’s a compelling one. We might not all want to live to a hundred, but we do all want to stay independent and active while we’re still alive.
So, what’s the secret?
According to author, speaker and National Geographic fellow Buettner, we can look to the Blue Zones for our answers. Buettner is a Blue Zones expert who, along with a team of anthropologists, epidemiologists and other researchers, has been studying these rare spots in the world where people live long and healthy lives and asking, what about these Blue Zones lifestyles contributes to longevity, and how can we apply the learnings to our own lives?
Among the answers: A tight, supportive community of friends, family and neighbors; a sense of purpose; plenty of physical activity; and diet.
Lately, Buettner has been focusing on diet. He and his team introduced the Blue Zone dietary guidelines to one U.S. community – Albert Lea, Minnesota. The results were astonishing.
“I came to realize that the runway to health is through our mouth,” he told Splendid Table host Lynne Rossetto Kasper on her culinary radio show. “We took a really deep dive into the diets of longevity around the world. We worked with the University of Minnesota and distilled down 155 dietary surveys in all five Blue Zones.”
Buettner and his team worked with local restaurants and grocery stores in Albert Lea to increase the “longevity factor” of local foods by 20 percent. After a year-and-a-half, they saw health care costs don by 40 percent. They’ve now expanded the “Blue Zone makeover” to 23 Iowa cities.
So, what is the Blue Zone diet? According to Buettner, it’s not just what people eat, but also how they eat. In other words, it won’t do you much good to use Blue Zones recipes if you’re eating alone in front of the TV every night.
The Blue Zone Diet: In a Nutshell
- People in the Blue Zones eat a high-carb diet centered on whole grains.
- It’s a largely plant-based diet, with small amounts of meat just four or five times a month.
- Protein is supplied primarily by beans – about one cup a day. “I would argue that’s the best longevity supplement in the world,” Butner says.
- People in the Blue Zones eat smaller quantities. The takeway: Stop eating before you’re full.
- They eat the largest meals of the day earlier in the day – your late afternoon or evening meal should be the smallest.
- Blue Zoners do drink alcohol on a regular basis – one or two glasses of red wine per day.
- Those glasses of wine – they’re part of a social occasion. Blue Zoners eat communally. “If you’re technically lonely in this country, it shaves about eight years off your life expectancy,” Butner points out. His team created small groups of people who committed to getting together for plant-based potluck dinners over a period of 10 weeks; some took walks together. In Alberta Lea, more than half of those groups are still together five or six years later.